Fire expert told CBD inquiry there are no national fire codes in SA after blaze killed 77

A devastating fire at the Usindiso building in the Johannesburg CBD last year was one of Africa’s deadliest.

Now, an expert told an inquiry it was due to neglect after 77 people were killed in the 2023 blaze.

The fire which engulfed the five-storey Usindiso building and displaced many families was divided into partitions and sub-divided to rent to other families.

Those who lived in the building told News24 that they had no running water, no working toilets or electricity and that “shacks were even built on stairways.”

In many instances, families were living in partitions, which were often also subdivided to rent to other families.

Wynand Engelbrecht, Chief Fire Officer at Fire Opps SA, took to the stand on Wednesday 17 January at the Commission of Inquiry to give his expert analysis on the fire.

He said: “The condition of that building was not unlike that of hundreds of other such buildings in the city or the country. The profile is one of general neglect and total disregard for fire safety and thus the preservation of life.

“It is clear that both privately owned and public-sector owned structures are far too often left to deteriorate to the point of no return. Life safety is not a priority in this country, not by a long shot.”

According to the expert: “This incident has proven to us the issue is way beyond mere politics. There is no national fire code in SA — all major cities and metro councils need to take cognisance of this fact. The solution is for cities to make major adjustments to the fire safety bylaws and stop blaming the national fire regulations, which is not a fire code.”

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